Billy's Blues won the Jerome Lowell DeJur Award previously granted to Oscar Hijuelos and Walter Mosley. It was listed in the Charlotte News & Observer's "Literary Books with a Buzz" alongside such noted authors as John Irving, Gore Vidal, Jane Smiley, and Ann Tyler. It was recommended by Publisher's Weekly as a "real hoot."
Walter, the narrator of Billy's Blues, is a loser. He's overweight, unemployed, agoraphobic and on the verge of becoming a shut-in. However, Walter does have one interest - Billy the Kid, the nefarious boy bandit king of the old southwest, shot dead by the age of twenty-one by an outlaw turned sheriff who was once his friend. Although Walter's fixation does give him a sense of purpose, will it help him to maintain his sanity or do just the opposite?
'Twas on the same night that poor Billy died He said to his friends "I'm not satisfied. There are twenty-one men I have put bullets through And Sheriff Pat Garrett must make twenty-two." --Reverend Andrew Jenkins
The key to Billy's Blues is in its experimental methdology. Walter's story, told in the first person, is interrupted by the history of "The Kid" which is told in a collage form (newspaper clippings, eyewitness accounts and scholarly debate balaced with movies, poetry, music and traditional story-telling.) The two stories, Walter's and that of his fixation, collide at the end. Although the collage form is nothing new, never before has it been used in this way.
Billy's Blues is a breakthrough novel by newcomer C. Rips Meltzer. The first effort by this important new voice in literature will surely not be his last. Billy's Blues opens up new avenues for the novel that will take the art form successfully into the twenty-first century and beyond. The novel is not dead; it's alive and well and still kicking in Billy's Blues.
|Publisher:||Permanent Press, The|
|Product dimensions:||5.74(w) x 8.83(h) x 0.93(d)|
Read an Excerpt
The evening begins like every other day. A setting sun filters softly between black curtains as I roll over, curl up, and pull covers warmly overhead. Surrounded by a bevy of plump pillows, I happily await the best sleep, the kind of sleep that can only be enjoyed after alarm clocks have long been silenced and forgotten. Ten minutes here. Five minutes there. Diving quickly into the most vivid of dreams, sinking slowly to the bottom, rushing the surface for air before submerging into another breathless visioneach complete conception may last but minutes or mere seconds, yet each details more than could ever be captured with language, paint or song. Such dreams were believed by the ancient Greeks to predict the future.
Each salubrious plunge is so consuming that even bodily pain withdraws, and I hate pain. Some men are built for speed, others brute force. I am built for comfort. Where others have muscle, I have cushioning. Some talk of scars earned on battlefields or in sports arenas, but the only injuries I seem to acquire occur in bed. I wake with pulled muscles, jammed fingers, and sprained ankles among an assortment of other ills.
But my sufferings begin long before the first battle with sleep. Early skirmishes involve just trying to get comfortable. Those whose bodies were built for comfort often have the most difficulty in finding it. Lying upon my belly, my prodigious girth forces the spine to curve outward. This results in searing back spasms. Belly up, my knees buckle under gravity's strain. On the side, my shoulders groan beneath the heavy load and the onlyway to keep these copious thighs from crushing my little he-biddies is to wedge a firm pillow forcibly between the knees. Not until sunrise, with curtains drawn and earplugs inserted, does the night's war of attrition leave me exhausted enough to trust the tremulous arms of Morpheus as he carries me away with noiseless wings to land of slumber.
For me, however, it's a flight filled with turbulence. After a day of fitful sleep, the sun finally sets and twilight tucks the earth to bed. Not until then can the final aphoristic magic begin. Freed from the prying eyes of Helios yet still safe from the danger of night, I'm granted a last episodic respite before the painful moment of resurrection.
Stuffing an extra pillow between the knees, I dream on ...
Floating beneath the stars on a cloudless night, my weightless spirit glides above a dark green forest touched lightly by the moon. A soft radiance flickers ahead, a campfire. I zero in to see a blanketed figure sleeping before the glow. Familiar in its curves, I realize that the slumbering body is mine, which I find peculiar, because I've never slept outside so exposed to the dangerous elements of the natural world. Stranger still is the camp: a rustic pot hung above the blaze from a triangle of sticks, two horses tied to a tree, and two unfurled bedrolls, one empty. Looking down upon the ugly lump that was once myself, I feel peaceful. The cares that once possessed me when embodied seem as trite as they were infinite: the need for rest, clean clothes, warmth, Hershey's chocolate. Satisfying the endless needs of the body, especially such a spacious one, was an undertaking of Sysiphian proportions. Now, outside the body, I feel unfettered by such corporeal torments.
Then I notice a tall shadow at the edge of woods on the other side of the fire. The dark figure stands perfectly still like a Cimmerian sorcerer. Finally, the shade steps into the circle of light. A wide-brimmed sombrero hides his face. Wearing cowboy boots and denim trousers over wiry bowlegs, he cradles something beneath a thick poncho. As he steps around the flames, a flash of light reveals the barrel of a rifle. He walks up to my sleeping figure and flips the left side of the poncho over his shoulder freeing the rifle butt. He lowers the barrel and points it toward my body.
From deep in the woods a sound is heard. Startled, he raises the gun.
The voice sounds old and frail.
"Hello ... Hello ...?"
All space and time ceases. Everything becomes this voice from outside our circle of light. Its volume rises and like a blind man stumbling forward, it comes closer, aged, painful, a voice cracking with loneliness and confusion, seeking me, beckoning for me to answer:
"Hello ... Hello ... Hello ...?"
Icy fingers reach beneath moist sheets. Faraway sounds seep in through earplugs: a distant train, a car alarm. All aches awaken and pound for recognition: ankles, knees, back, neck, an overwhelming need to relieve myself. The voice repeats itself, closer, vivid, plaintive.
"Hello ... Hello ... Hello ...?"
Heartbeats stab my chest. My eyes open to darkness. Reaching for the answering machine, I turn the volume down and the voice trails off into peaceful emptiness. I slip off the slumber mask, remove earplugs, and check the clock.
It's 6:30 p.m. Night has settled upon the Northeast. I'm up. Now what?
Excerpted from Billy's Blues by C. Rips Meltzer. Copyright © 1998 by C. Rips Meltzer. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved.